Interview by Adam McKibbin
A few years back, it was entirely reasonable to assume that you would never again ask the question "Hey, have you heard the new Dinosaur Jr record?" - and even more reasonable to assume you wouldn't follow that up by saying "It's really damn good." But such is the case with Farm, the second album for the reunited original Dinosaur trio: J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph. Barlow - an indie-rock icon who was also a co-founder of Sebadoh - also has a new solo album, Goodnight Unknown, out on Merge. To make matters more interesting, he is opening up for Dinosaur Jr as they storm across the States again.
Before landing back in the U.S., Barlow checked in from a noisy venue in Germany and talked about the unlikely reunion, the challenge of opening for himself, and the process of bringing his own songs back into the Dinosaur fold.
You guys were young guys during the first go-round with Dinosaur. How has your perception of that older material changed with time?
I was very into those three records that I played with Dinosaur, and I felt pretty strongly that they were good. I was always committed musically and I always believed in J’s talents back then – and I feel the same way now.
Well, yeah, and Farm is a genuinely strong record – Farm and Beyond have been a relief for anyone who may have been skeptical or cynical about a reunion. When you were getting back together, were there bands that you looked to as an example of bands that did it right?
I can’t even think of a band. [Laughs] There’s gotta be one, but I can’t think of one that made records that I liked when they reformed.
So much has changed in the music biz since those early days of Dinosaur, obviously. But the touring aspect is pretty much the same, right? That seems like an overlooked part of how people consume music and connect with music.
Yeah, and that connection is really the only way that we kind of make real money. That’s always been the way it is. Making records never made money for us; it’s a little better now than it was, but in general, that’s just a small part of it.
You have a new solo record coming out, and you’ll be playing solo to open the Dinosaur Jr shows. That’s a pretty unusual situation. What’s the toughest opening slot you’ve ever been in?
Um… this could be it. [Laughs] Looking at it now, it seems kind of tough. I imagine once we get into the swing of things, it will be easy, but right now I just don’t know how it’s going to go. I’m a little anxious about it because it wasn’t exactly a popular decision. It’s a balancing act.
You, J and Murph are the formative Dinosaur trio, but the band had a life in those in-between years, and some fans are surely coming out because of albums like Green Mind and Where You Been. How much are you digging into that part of that catalog, and what’s it like for you to get acquainted with that material?
We actually just added one called “Get Me” from Where You Been, and we play “Thumb” from Green Mind. I like playing those songs. I wasn’t so into the mid-period Dinosaur recordings, but at the core of all those songs, J’s craft and gift for melody are there. I find them easy to remember and fun to play. I also like feeling like we’re giving a well-rounded show that represents the band even beyond the stuff I played on.
There are lots of references to how J is a tough interview who gives very brief answers. In case I talk to him next time around, what can I ask him about that will get him to talk and talk?
Uh… gear. [Laughs] Guitars, amplifiers, studio gear, compressors. Or maybe traveling in India. He’s got a guru; you could ask him about that!
You have two of your songs on “Farm.” How do you make those songs work within the context of the album?
Well, with Beyond, the record before this one, I had some time with Murph. He came out to LA and we jammed a little bit, and then brought that out to Massachusetts, where we started recording. J had some input, like shaping the drums. It was a really organic process, and I thought Murph and J brought some cool ideas to it. But with Farm, it was completely rushed. The unspoken thing is that we don’t do any of my stuff until the very end. When we get into these albums, J starts generating two or three demos every few days, and Murph and I are kind of running to keep up with him. So by the end of the process this time, Murph was totally burned. I was trying to play with him and he was totally tired. So they didn’t get into working on my songs the way they did with Beyond. It was comic. [Laughs] But, in the end, we made them into something. It was all worth it.